Flasher Discuss Constant Image, the Pitfalls of Genre

Matthew Howland
photo by Caroline Anne

Flasher dares you to pigeon-hole them. The Washington D.C. trio released their first full-length record, Constant Image, in June of 2018, and it stands as among the most exciting debuts of the year. In a different era, Constant Image would be a hit, spawning three to four successful singles with frequent airplay on after hours MTV programming. This interaction with fame would only further emphasize the radical bent in Flasher's music: the band's lyrical content questions and undoes the very pop tropes that they draw upon. To the band's credit, this act of deconstruction also succeeds as thoroughly satisfying pop music. Flasher bring with them an impressive punk resume: guitarist/vocalist Taylor Mulitz previously played bass in D.C. punk outfit Priests, and was in Young Trynas with Flasher drummer Emma Baker and Eva Moolchan (Sneaks). Baker also plays in Big Hush, and bassist/vocalist Danny Saperstein is in off-kilter garage outfit Bless. Mulitz also co-runs the venerable D.C. label Sister Polygon Records. Following an in-studio on The Morning Show, Flasher spoke with KEXP about the D.C. DIY community, a successful tour with The Breeders, and the limits of categorization. 

KEXP: Growing up together in the greater Washington D.C. area, did you share musical commonalities prior to starting Flasher?

Emma Baker [drums, vocals]: Definitely, but it’s hard to know since we grew up together. We would share all the artists we liked with each other. 

Taylor Mulitz [vocals, guitar]:  Danny and I's first band was during high school. I first met [Baker and Saperstein] because I went and watched them play music at a friend’s house in an attic. That was always part of our friendship from the beginning. 

Would you all go to the same shows? 

TM: Later on, maybe. When I was in middle school and early high school, I was definitely more into “indie rock,” but they were both cooler than me.

EB: We went to hardcore shows. 

TM: Yeah, like the Distillers, but I didn’t even know that they existed. 

Danny Saperstein [vocals, bass]: The Distillers? They weren’t even hardcore. 

EB: We mostly went to DIY shows. I did see The Distillers, and they were fucking awesome. 

Of the D.C. DIY venues, which did you feel comfortable in? Was there anywhere you felt like part of a community? 

EB: Definitely the Black Cat. 

TM: The Black Cat was one. Comet Ping Pong for sure. We all work there now. Even before we started working there, though, we’d go there because was in the neighborhood. 

DS: I had never been there before I started working there, actually. I had never heard of it. 

EB: I used to drink at some places for years while underage. D.C. used to be a totally different place. Some people would just give me an over-21 stamp. D.C. is very uptight now, and I’m a manager of a restaurant and bartender. I don’t mess around with underage folks. 

TM: I look so young that I feel uncomfortable carding, even if that’s twisted logic. I feel like they’re going to say, are you even old enough to drink? 

EB: So then you respond, I’m doing my job. Go to hell. 

Were there radio stations in D.C. that you grew up listening to? 

EB: Alt-rock, like [W]HFS. So classic. 

TM: 99.1. They had this great music festival [HFStival].

DS: Yeah, they had AFI when they were cool. 

TM: Local H played there. 

EB: The Cure, Jay-Z, all these famous artists. 

DS: 101.1, too. I think even appreciating music for me was started by internalizing anxiety about having bad musical taste. When I was in elementary school, I used to stay up really late and listen to 99.1 HFS. I would call in and request The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, something like that. 

EB: I feel like DC101 like to plug ska a lot more than HFS. They had the Chili Cook-Off, which was the ska-fest every summer. 

TM: I never got into ska...

EB: I like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones. 

What is it like seeing people you’ve known from DIY shows in D.C. come to a new level of fame?  

TM: The craziest one has been Snail Mail, watching her just skyrocket to stardom. It’s really awesome. She's still our friend. 

DS: It feels so recent that they were still playing house shows. 

TM: We’re happy for everyone though. It’s cool! 

DS: It is scary, in a sense. There’s no way to really gauge the expectations when you're in that position. You don’t want your friends to feel a ton of pressure or become alienated from their music, especially when they're still pretty young. However, it is exciting to have more time and energy to focus on your music, and you have more resources. But it's easy to take for granted the conditions that made it possible for you to write music in the first place. The music you’re writing and your creative motivation is really contingent on the conditions of making that music. To transplant, it isn’t so easy. At least I’ve found that to be true. 

What has your experience been like with your label Domino Records? 

EB: We love our label. 

DS: We love Domino. We have nothing bad to say about Domino. 

TM: The only thing I would say is that it’s scary when someone invests in you and you feel like you have to make good on that investment. But it's so out of your control at a certain point whether it’s going to pay off, so to say. It’s not like [Domino] is putting that pressure on us though, it’s coming from within. 

DS: Even being full-time musicians is alone really hard to manage, and touring this much. At once, it’s really wonderful to have the resources to make as many music videos as you want…

EB: But then we have to make a bunch of music videos that are really good. 

DS: [Making music videos] is a good example of a way in which it's like, well, because I can [do something] doesn’t necessarily mean that we know how yet, or have the amount of experience to bring the same intentionality to it as we do to other aspects of our music. And the music is how we got into this position in the first place. It's difficult to apply the skills which you use to make music to lots of other creative projects that become available to you [on a bigger label].

How did the “Pressure” music video come about?

Emma: That video was made by this collective of people in Chicago called Weird Life. They made the video in collaboration with a performer who goes by the name Authentic Skidmark. With that video, we were on tour, but we needed a video out in time for that single. Normally Domino is serious about us being in the videos, but that was one exception. We put it in their hands because we liked their body of work and they seemed cool. We wanted to let other artists interpret the song. 

Taylor: They had also done a video for Soccer Mommy for the song “Your Dog” that’s really good. That song is really dope. 

What pop influences contribute to your songwriting? In other interviews, you have mentioned The B-52’s, which seems a good reference point in terms of how they mix punk and pop. 

Taylor: A band that does that which was kind of a touchstone was Broadcast. Those songs are pure pop filtered through glitchy, fucked up synths, but are also very beautiful. And those off-kilter melodies... The Breeders are another one. 

Daniel: My Bloody Valentine, too. That has always been the reason why I like them — the exact same reason as Broadcast, and the B-52’s in their own way — where you start from the place of the most accessibility and then you contort and mutilate all the essential parts of it until you go past the point of ugly or abrasive. Then you return again to what made it pop in the first place. With all that music, you feel the pop-ness of it, but you’ve been so reoriented after listening to it and you aren’t sure why. The melodies are confounding, not ugly, but surprising, and you never could have anticipated why you liked it so much. I think we’re all constantly trying to find bands who do that.

How was your experience touring with the Breeders?  

Taylor: That was the best support tour I’ve ever done. They were so cool and nice, and their crowds were really responsive to us. There have definitely been other tours we’ve done where the audience didn't care at all. 

Emma: Breeders fans are so excited and respectful, it’s really nice. It was wonderful meeting Jim [Macpherson] and Josephine [Wiggs], too. The best people ever. 

Taylor: Jim and Josephine are the unsung heroes of The Breeders. 

What has it been like seeing how you’ve branded thus far? How do you reckon your artistic vision with how other people are trying to sell you?

Taylor: Yeah, it’s weird. Like seeing the “jaded restaurant workers” genre tag… it’s kind of funny. I do get that people have to craft some sort of narrative. At a certain point, it’s like, well that is what we’re doing, but that’s not how the record sounds.

Emma: It does get old constantly reading — not just for us, but every band that is “post-punk” — that our record is about anxiety. Who cares? 

Daniel: Yeah, I hate it. 

Emma: It’s really sucky. But what’s cool is that for the first time people are calling us a pop band, which I’m into.

Daniel: When you take the risk of putting your music out there, it's disheartening when the way it's written about is either lazy or commodifying… it really diminishes what music could mean to someone who is hearing it for the first time. We’ve read so many reviews of Constant Image where they don’t talk about the content of the record whatsoever. The music, the lyrics, the sound, the way it’s recorded… yet it’s considered a record review. How much does any of what's written have to do with all the hard work and genuine desire we have to connect that went into the making of this music?

We're trying to stay slightly indecipherable in terms of reference, and that seems to provoke some people to try even harder to pigeonhole us into a constellation of references. It's this meets this meets this meets this meets this... How much of that tells you about why they’re even writing about the record in the first place?

Flasher will tour Europe this fall. Their debut record, Constant Image, is available via Domino Records. For more information, visit the band's website

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